When it comes to Spain, the cities of Barcelona, Madrid, or Ibiza likely come to mind. But there’s more to the Spain story. The Balearic Islands is where you’ll find the treasure that is the capital city of Palma De Mallorca.
The castles, cathedrals, mountain villages, cobblestone streets, and fairy tales recall another era. There is something to be said for seeing and standing in buildings from the 1500s, and walking roads that have been traveled for eons. You can feel the ghosts. The cathedrals are mesmerizing. Whether you’re religious or not, you want to bow and whisper. The beauty is in the mountains, the hillsides, and the calm sea that is clear, twinkling like diamonds. From on high, you can see the ocean’s bottom in many places. The yachts and sailboats are so pretty, they can’t be real.
Much as history is everywhere, there are modern touches in the cafés and restaurants, and designer shops mixed in with some boutiques that have been around since the early 1900s. Food is of much importance, with tapas, seafood, and an array of delicacies that you’ll only find here. This is an interesting corner of the world; its own special slice of Spain. It’s now easier to get there from the U.S. with direct flights from Newark’s Liberty International Airport.
1. Iberostar Grand Portal Nous
Where are you going to lay your head in paradise? Maybe you want to stay in the center of Palma, but if you want your cake and to eat it too, check in to Iberostar Grand Portal Nous. It’s about 10 minutes from town, with a whole other vibe, five-star luxury, seafront views, and a fab design by Marcel Wanders studio — from the sofas, flooring, lamps, and more. Think boutique-chic, with its own art gallery and museum-worthy art everywhere. It is as fab, as the beautiful intimate cove beach, Cala Bendinat. Presentation is everything, with thoughtful details to dishes, like elsewhere in the hotel, and striking gold monogrammed emblems on the linen, plush, 6-foot-long towels. You’ll also notice its awe-inspired décor, such as the Naughty Suite with its round bed, mirrors on the ceiling, and a pole-dancing area.
As much as you’ll be wowed by the art, the food is next level. My favorite meals at Astir Restaurant included the salmon seared with an orange glaze that was for sure the best piece of salmon I’ve ever had; the same goes for the melt-in-the-mouth sirloin. I’ll always remember the morning yoga on the beach. I was set for the day and reset, period. I exhaled. My time at Physica Spa was special indeed, with an embarrassment of wellness riches, dramatic lighting and sculptures, sensation showers, and mosaic tiling.
The live art performance with a local artist in the hotel gallery brought hotel guests together to enjoy champagne, watch the artist create a collage on the spot, and even work as a team to create a collage. It made for a great start to a festive evening that included a DJ at dinner. Stay here and not only do you feel like royalty but you can also feel good that you’re being a responsible traveler: The hotel has been recognized as one of the most sustainable hotels in Spain.
2. Mercado Del Olivar
There are markets and then there are markets. Mercado del Olivar, located in the heart of Palma at the Plaza de Olivar, stands out in a city with no shortage of markets. It is not only the largest but also the most complete, covered market hall in Palma.
Never have I seen so many different types of fish — rows and rows of them — some otherworldly looking, a bit scary actually, but locals feast on them. The numerous fish are not to be outdone by the vast amount of veggies from every color of the rainbow, the meats, the cheeses, the spices, and pretty much anything else you can think of.
You can stand and get a bite of all manners of deliciousness or even sit with a glass of wine and have a meal in the market. It’s an experience you’ll always remember. And yes, you’ll want to get one of those straw Mallorcan shopping baskets to pile your goodies in and take home as a keepsake.
If you don’t believe in fairytales, shame on you. Walk through the cobblestone narrow streets in this medieval village in the hills and you just might be converted. Twenty minutes from Palma de Mallorca nestled in the Tramuntana mountains is where you’ll discover Valldemossa, the highest town in Mallorca and the birthplace of the island’s only saint — Santa Catalina Thomas. One point of interest is the Real Cartuia, or Royal Carthusian Monastery.
Valldemossa was a haunt for the legendary pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin and his lover, the French writer George Sand, who spent a winter in the 1800s staying in rented rooms in the monastery. There’s a lovely statue of Chopin in one of the gardens where people love to pose for that IG moment. Valldemossa is home to charming shops, boutiques, cafés, and spots for a great cup of joe or cocktail. The tile plaques near the street door of the houses, honoring Santa Catalina Thomas, will surely catch your eye.
4. La Seu
There’s always a signature building or two that define a city. In Palma, it’s La Seu, a sandstone cathedral that took 600 years to build. The 14th-century cathedral dominates the skyline. It is massive and impressive. It has one of the world’s largest rose windows and some of the 20th-century renovations were done by the legendary architect Antoni Gaudi. It is one of Europe’s tallest Gothic structures and is on the site of the mosque which stood opposite the Royal Palace of La Almudaina during the Moorish occupation of Mallorca.
When you enter, you can’t help but ooh and aah, it’s spectacular. The “Cathedral of Light” boasts 61 stained-glass windows and you’ll just stare at the enormous central rose window when the sun shines through in colored lights. Throughout, there are dramatic touches like the crown-of-thorns illuminated canopy that hangs over the altar. Give yourself plenty of time to experience La Seu, there’s much to soak in.
5. Old Town
Old Town is not only where you’ll find La Seu, but sites like the Royal Palace of Almudaina, a 10th-century Muslim fortress rebuilt in the Gothic style. It is the residence of the current monarchy as well as Es Baluard Contemporary Art Museum — an architectural masterpiece in and of itself. But mostly, you’ll just want to roam the alleys and streets admiring the Gothic churches and the 17th- and 18th-century homes with amazing patios, doors, arches, and more.
The much-beloved Golden Mile spills onto trendy avenues like Passeig del Born, which connects to Avenida de Jaime III, bringing you to present-day luxury shops and traditional ensaimada pastries served in cafés, tapas, and bars. Parc de la Mar, a man-made lake in Old Town, is a popular spot. La Lonja, once the maritime trade exchange, is near a square where you can have your pick of al fresco dining choices. La Longja is also about the nightlife with its abundance of clubs, restaurants, bars, and cafés.
6. The Promenade
With all that great food you’ll be eating at places like Colmado Hispania Restaurant, one of the favorites for tapas, do so without guilt. Enjoy goodies like grilled octopus leg with creamy chickpea puree and spicy tartare, Iberian cheeks with sweet potatoes in textures, and Andalusian squid with citrus aioli. Walk or bike it off on the wide promenade and cycle path that goes on and on for miles along the seafront. If you have time, bring your swimsuit and treat yourself to a bit of beach fun.
7. Bellver Castle
Talk about a view. West of the city of Palma atop a pine-forested hill is Bellver Castle with a 360-degree panorama from the summit that includes the Bay of Palma, Tramuntana mountains, and more. This is Spain’s only round castle and was built in the 14th century. It is considered a Catalan-Gothic masterpiece.
Throughout time, it was once a royal summer residence and temporarily a prison during World War II. Bellver is noted for its moat, drawbridge, three towers, and museum with artifacts from Roman, Arab, and Spanish periods. The museum helps you imagine what life was like in Palma throughout the ages.
8. The Ancient Arab Baths
In the gardens of Can Fontirroig in Old Town are Arab Baths from the 10th–12th centuries. It is believed that the baths were made from the ruins of other eras. You’ll notice the mix-matched columns.
9. Historic Wooden Train Ride: Palma To Sóller
Even locals love to take the historic wooden train from Palma to Sóller. The hour-long ride is scenery to die for, with viaducts, bridges, a dozen tunnels, citrus groves, and more. Once there, hike, spend some time at the beach, and enjoy lunch at one of the excellent restaurants.